time-coinsEdgar Cahn is an American lawyer and the founder of what we now call Time Banking. (For Wikipedia’s article on time-based currency, click here.) In the late eighties he suffered a heart attack and was stuck in bed for longer than he liked afterwards. He felt useless, and he didn’t like it. He was also aware of the massive layoffs happening around him, and what that said about the perceived usefulness of those people. Did they also feel useless? Was that accurate?

One of the unique things about the Time Bank is the way it addresses the value of people. No one is useless, each person has something of value to offer and their time is worth the same as any other person’s time. In this system, people have the opportunity to feel valued, build self esteem and have a sense of being useful no matter their age, education, language skills or income. These are benefits that can also be attributed to volunteering, but with Time Banking the giver has the opportunity to receive in turn and allow someone else (the new giver) to experience those same benefits.

The way Time Banking values different services is also worth noting. As I noted above, each person’s time is worth the same as any other person’s. Similarly, an hour of service is worth an hour of any other service. An hour of leaf raking is worth an hour of legal advice is worth an hour of child care is worth an hour of massage is worth an hour of…… the list could go on forever. This is different from market value. The real importance of this, for me, comes from something Edgar Cahn voiced in his February 2012 interview on the Current (to listen to the 25 minute episode, click here). Much of our perception of worth or usefulness comes from the market value of things. Unfortunately, the market doesn’t tend to value caring work (eg. child care, elder care), social justice work or environmental work. Are these types of work (and the people who do the work) really worth less than other services (and the people who provide those services)? Are they really less useful? In a Time Bank, these services are valued equally to marketing help, website building or financial advice or any other service you can think of.

An additional very cool thing about the Time Bank is you can offer or request any service you can think of that you consider useful. As long as two people are in agreement about giving and receiving this service, it is a valid exchange. This allows people to be creative about how they can be useful. A gentleman in Maine offers lessons on carving avocado pits, for pete’s sake! By allowing people to create their own usefulness we can empower members of our community to feel better about themselves, to contribute to the community and to have earning power, even if it is not from traditional sources.

Here in our area, the Guelph-Wellington Time Bank is just over a year old and has just over 100 members. This sort of system works best when there are more people involved to make exchanges with each other so we are recruiting members! If you are interested in this complimentary currency system please feel welcome to join on of our upcoming orientation sessions – May 21, 7-9pm at 10 Carden or May 27, 10am – noon at Silence (46 Essex St.). RSVP to jess@transitionguelph.org or by joining the facebook event: May 21 OR May 27.